Alternative Paris: Enjoying The City Like A Local

4 November 2016

Paris, it’s an intriguing city that many travellers lust over, while others loathe. Both pristine and dirty, charming and cold. Paris isn’t a city made for seeing through the window of a bus, or from a speedy walking tour around one small section. Paris takes time. Time to observe, learn and fall in love with the Parisian style. Time to taste a platter of France’s proud culinary traditions. Time to take the back streets, discover new and old art, picnic on the banks of the Seine. Paris needs time to explore like a local. From a Parisienne-wannabe, here are places to go to avoid the tourist traps and fall in love with Paris like a local.

For Elaborate Interiors

There is no denying that Paris is one of the world’s most beautiful cities. A history of influential architects have shaped the city through the ages, from iconic landmarks like Notre Dame cathedral to modern institutions like the Pompidou Centre. For the real glamour of a bygone era you might have your sights set on the revered Palace of Versailles. While it’s certainly beautiful and elaborate on a large scale, there is an inner city rival to put on your sightseeing list. The ornate gold interiors, the grand staircase and the mesmerising ceiling painted by Chagall, the Palais Garnier Opera House is a world of its own in the heart of the city.

For Views

Before you run blindly to join the queue to climb the Eiffel Tower, think about her somewhat smaller but no less impressive sister, the Arc de Triomphe. From the top of the Arc, not only does your view include the Eiffel Tower herself, but you get a direct view straight down the Champs Elysees too. Other great views in Paris can be found at the top of the Pompidou Centre, from Sacre Coeur at Montmartre and at the top of the Tour Montparnasse.

For Masters of Art

The Louvre is the most famous gallery in Paris, and between the Royal suites, a long list of masters and the rather small, but nonetheless renowned Mona Lisa, it’s not difficult to see why. The Louvre isn’t the only place to view art in Paris, however. In fact, a much brighter, airier and, in my opinion, more spectacular gallery is the Musee d’Orsay. Housed in a former train station, the Musee d’Orsay is home to a huge number of Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cezanne and Van Gogh works. The building itself, a beaux-arts masterpiece, boasts an ornate gold ballroom and stunning views across the city from the top floor cafe.

For Authentic Parisian Cafes and Restaurants

Every tourist to wander the streets of Paris should definitely visit the bohemian, overtly artistic and way too touristy Montmartre. It’s beautiful, it’s the Paris you see in films, but it’s overpriced and overcrowded, particularly in the cafes around the Place du Tertre. To indulge in a more authentic Parisian cafe experience, find a street-facing chair in Saint Germain. This is the heart of old Paris, where cafe institutions like the literary favourite Cafe des Flores are located. Wander down a side street however, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by traditional Brittany Creperies, historic Parisian pubs (yes they do exist) with basement drinking dens and authentic bistros.

For Modern Art and Architecture

Paris might be known for tree-lined Haussmann boulevards and five story apartment buildings of a certain bygone era, but the creative influence of the city is just as energetic today. The Pompidou Centre in the Marais district is the most well-known modern art museum in Paris, but it’s not the only one. The Fondation Louis Vuitton, designed by Frank Gehry, is a futuristic wave-like structure in the Bois de Boulogne. The Fondation houses the extensive private art collection of Bernard Arnault, the chairman and CEO of LVMH, as well as lauded temporary exhibitions from around the world.

 

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For a dose of local life

The Paris tourists see and the Paris that locals enjoy can be two very different places. For classic market shopping, where the butcher and baker yell hello across the street and there’s not a supermarket in sight, stroll down Rue Des Martyrs. You’ll also get great coffee at Kookaboora Cafe on the corner and can pick up some lunch to go at Rose Bakery. For a dose of uber-cool Parisian life, hang around the Canal Saint Martin. Or for a classic Parisian sundowner, enjoy a picnic along the banks of the Seine on Ile de la Cite. On Sunday morning, visit a farmers market. The biggest is at Bastille, but most arrondissements have one. Not only are the markets one of the only things open on a Sunday morning, but you’ll see a full cross sections of the city here.

For Nature

Paris boasts perfectly manicured parks and city squares in almost every quarter. From the rows of shady trees in the Palais Royal to the vast gardens in the Tuileries and the sun chairs in Jardin du Luxembourg. There is one park though, that is vastly different to the rest, with undulating hills, views across the city and a feeling of being miles from anywhere. The Parc des Buttes Chaumont, in the 19th arrondissement provides a peaceful, secluded space other city parks cannot. And, unlike most Parisian parks, there’s grass here too!

For Hidden Paris

Last but definitely not least, there is one place you should visit in Paris that you won’t find in many guide books or on maps. Les Passages, are a chain of covered shopping arcades that snake between buildings from the top of the 9th arrondissement to the Palais Royal in the 1st. You’ll find dusty bookstores with ancient tomes piled high, pokey restaurants filled with extravagantly dressed locals and photo opportunities galore. Head here over the tourist-heavy Saint Michel district for a quieter, more stylish side of Paris.


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Vicki Fletcher

An Australian writer and photographer, Vicki loves road trips down unknown tracks, following locals to the best food in town and spending long afternoons people watching in city squares. She's written for publications across Australia and Europe. Top travel tip: always look up. Follow Vicki on Instagram @vickijanefletcher.